Le Anne Clausen de Montes is a Presbyterian pastor living in North Iowa. In the following words, she characterizes herself as unsuccessful. That begs the question: what is success? Laboring behind the scenes as a volunteer, she is co-creator of the Iowa Faith Leadership Network, the Farm Crisis Ministry Network, Spectrum Spirituality Project, Family Welcome Centers International, and We Parent Together. She has studied, volunteered, or worked with organizations such as L’Arche, Christian Peacemaker Teams, Middle East Council of Churches, the International Solidarity Movement, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, and Women Against Violence (the first Arabic-speaking women’s crisis center in the Middle East). In this excerpt from The Smile on a Dog: Retrieving a Faith That Matters (downloadable for free here), she speaks about the forces that propel her to work for justice.
At this stage of my life, I may not be anyone’s definition of success. I’m in my 40s and I’ve never owned a home. My car is ancient and slowly dying, with 270,000 miles and a lot of rust. In 2015, I became a struggling solo parent of a low-income family. The first few years, we were an extremely low-income family, living in public housing, and although I was working all the time, we needed a lot of assistance to make ends meet. What I remember most from that time is the exhaustion and the mice.
I took a break from parish ministry when my youngest was about to be born, my second child was showing signs of autism, and members of the congregation I served were not really supportive. My spouse was going through his own behavioral health struggles, and we ended up separating, then divorcing. I’d hoped to return to parish ministry when my youngest was ready to start school. Instead, the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 changed plans again.
People these days might mistake me for “white trash” when they see me out and about. I do look the part sometimes, with worn clothes and a worn face. They may not realize until they get to know me the adventures I’ve had in the past, or the social justice work I do today, about which I am so passionate.
Between college and seminary, I was a human rights worker in the Middle East and on the U.S./ Mexico border; I was among the first investigators to discover what later became known as the Abu Ghraib scandal. Later, in seminary, I spent a month in maximum security as a federal prisoner of conscience for my nonviolent protest of torture at the U.S. Army School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia—a facility that teaches torture tactics to militaries from other countries. While imprisoned, I translated and transcribed letters from women facing deportation who were writing to their lawyers, friends, and families.
Although away from the parish, I found other ways of doing ministry. I “shared life” with adults with intellectual disabilities in a L’Arche community. I worked in a school for children with severe behavioral health disorders. I started a storefront hospitality ministry for families with young children. The friendships were wonderful, but the heating bills ate us alive that winter, and the roof leaked. I redesigned the ministry so that we could operate without building woes.
Throughout college and seminary, three pastorates, and even in poverty as a solo parent, I keep finding ways to work for peace and justice. I work for racial equality, for the homeless and hungry, and for the well-being of families with young children, especially those whose children have special needs. I find that this work often dissolves my despair over the brokenness of the world. It has also led me to many wonderful people and places.
I recall a few poignant moments in my youth that propelled me to work for justice.
I remember the 1991 war on Iraq, when I was in sixth grade. The teacher rolled in the TV cart so that we could watch the airstrikes. The class cheered for every explosion as bombs hit the city. I felt sick to my stomach.
I remember the racism on my college campus, toward Black students in particular, as well as students from other countries and religions. Fundamentalism drove the LGBTQ+ students off the campus after my first year there. I felt both rage and fear at the harm being done. Fortunately, I had friends who knew how to organize and were willing to teach.
What keeps me going is the “knowing.” Knowing that Jesus calls us to this work of feeding the poor, sheltering the homeless, welcoming the foreigner, tending to the sick, loving our neighbors as ourselves. Knowing the suffering of so many people from the experiences and friendships I’ve had. These days, I simply seek to use the community organizing and advocacy skills I’ve learned so that I can work with others to build a better world.
Every breath is a prayer:
for wisdom and courage;
sometimes for rest;
and always for hope.
You can connect with Le Anne on Facebook here